Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are commonly reported by office workers worldwide. MSDs are defined as illnesses and injuries that affect one or more parts of the musculoskeletal system. They include sprains, strains, inflammation, degeneration, tears, pinched nerves or blood vessels, bone splintering and stress fractures. Symptoms include discomfort, pain, fatigue, swelling, stiffness, or numbness and tingling. These disorders and contributing factors can have detrimental effects on workers’ health and productivity. However, ergonomics education, awareness of ergonomic principals and regular workstation audits can help alleviate some of the underlying symptoms of MSDs in the office.
Proper ergonomics education can result in: reduced frequency and severity of injuries, increased productivity, improvement in quality, improvement in overall employee well-being and decreased turnover and absenteeism.
Try these practical fixes to decrease fatigue, discomfort and physical stress on the body while also increasing comfort and productivity in the workplace.
- Get up and move and avoid prolonged periods of sitting.
- Change positions every 30 minutes. There is no perfect position or posture that will work for everyone. The key to the best posture is variety. Body postures determine which joints and muscles are used in an activity and the amount of force or stresses that are generated or tolerated. It is important to try and sustain strong, supportive postures to decrease the risk of musculoskeletal disorders.
- Take short stretch breaks periodically throughout the day. Injuries are typically the result of cumulative stress on the muscles, joints, and tendons over time. Stretching not only loosens up the muscles, but helps to reduce the effects of repetitive motion stresses on the body while at work.
Additionally, workstation audits can ensure employees have an ergonomically friendly office space. This office ergonomics assessment can help identify key areas of poor posture and opportunities for improvement to avoid fatigue and discomfort:
- Computer monitors: Computer monitors should be placed directly in front of the user, with the top no higher than eye level. Humans naturally have a line of sight of 15 degrees below the horizontal so positioning at this height can ensure the user’s line of focus is at the center of the computer screen.
- Head position: Try to keep the weight of the head directly above its base of support (neck). Positioning the head forward puts additional strain on the neck muscles.
- Seating in chair: Hips should be positioned all the way back in the office chair. When doing this, the user is naturally conforming to the shape of his/her spine. It is best to avoid slouching in the office chair, as slouching puts more pressure on the discs and vertebrae of the back.
- Arm rests: Arm rests should be adjusted so they don’t come into contact with the arms unless the user is resting.
- Chair height: The office chair should be positioned in a way that allows the user to be in a 90-90-90 position. In other words, the knees, hips and ankles should all be at 90 degrees with both feet flat on the floor. It is important to take note that desk height may dictate seat height which may require footrest use.
- Elbow height: Elbow height should match desk height.
- Keyboard/Mouse: The keyboard tray should be positioned at a flat or slightly negative tilt. The user should avoid having a positive tilt at all costs. Additionally, the keyboard and mouse should be positioned close enough together to avoid excessive reaching, which causes strain in the shoulders and arms.
- Rest the Eyes: Take periodic breaks away from the screen for several seconds by looking at objects at a distance, to avoid eye strain.
Office ergonomics can be a key part of your injury prevention program. Keeping employees comfortable and pain-free is good business. For more information on conducting office workstation evaluations, watch MMA’s Office Ergonomics Video. It gives you a direct look at good and bad ergonomic postures and practical ways to fix the issues.
For onsite assistance with ergonomic evaluations or training, contact your local MMA Loss Control representative.